Tuesday, April 26, 2016


From time to time, I enjoy setting down my pen and turning over my blog platform to opinion leaders who have important observations to share about our sector. This week, it’s a privilege to post an informative piece by Krista Endsley, the CEO at Abila, and a great friend and strategic partner to AFP.  Abila works with over 8,000 nonprofits across North America and is highly tapped into the donor community, donor motivations, and donor expectations.

If you were with us at the International Fundraising Conference in Boston last month, you’ll remember Abila’s teaser presentation about its survey on donor loyalty.  Now that the survey has been released in full, I’ve invited Krista to use this space to speak about key take-aways and implications.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you about how you will work with this important hearts-and-minds data.

- Andrew

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What Drives Donor Loyalty? Findings from the Latest Donor Research


By Krista Endsley, Chief Executive Officer, Abila

We have a tradition of presenting “sneak peeks” of our donor research at AFP’s International Fundraising Conference prior to releasing it to the greater public. We believe it’s important to do this to garner the reactions and questions from fundraising professionals out in the field every day. And, of course, because we can’t wait to share our findings! It is through the feedback from AFP members that we’re able to create research reports that are not just reflective of what’s going on with today’s donors, but that also contain actionable information.

At AFPFC this year, we gave a sneak peek of our latest Donor Loyalty Study. In this year’s study we went beyond donor engagement and dug deep into what drives donor loyalty. We surveyed 1,136 donors in the United States who made at least one donation to a nonprofit organization in the past 12 months. Here are a few key findings:

•    Donating is personal. While this may seem like a given, it is overwhelmingly true for all types of donors. The three main reasons people donate to nonprofit organizations are very personal in nature – they have a deep passion for the cause, they believe the organization depends on their donation, or they know someone affected by the nonprofit’s mission.

Reasons for donating (respondents were able to select all that apply)


•    Volunteering and events play a big role in driving loyalty.
Seventy-three percent of those who volunteered and 74 percent of those who attended an event say they are more likely to donate. This is especially true for Millennials, 52 percent of whom say they’re more likely to donate after volunteering for an organization. While you might not ask your volunteer coordinator to write a fundraising appeal, he or she may play a major role in a potential donor’s experience and the decision to donate again.

•    Content is NOT just king … it’s money.
Nearly 75 percent of respondents say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content. This is a real wake-up call for the sector. How you communicate with your donors is one area where you have the MOST control (the content you create), and really need to spend time and energy building out a solid content strategy. Are you spending as much time crafting your email content as you are on your direct mail piece, for example?



What content stumbles would cause a donor to stop donating (note: respondents could select multiple choices)


•    Quality, length, and frequency matter. Adding to the findings above, the quality of content you are sending to donors really does matter. Seventy-two percent of donors say receiving well thought-out, polished content is important to them. A majority of donors would like to hear from the nonprofit they support at least monthly, and prefer short, self-contained content (short emails, letters/articles, or videos under two minutes long). It may be time to rethink that monthly newsletter and consider how you can break up that content into smaller snack-size pieces that are more personalized to your donors’ interests.

•    Donors trust nonprofits to spend money wisely.
By and large, donors trust the nonprofits they support to spend their money wisely (93 percent). In this study, we also attack the “Overhead Myth” head-on, asking donors how they feel about their money going towards “overhead.” A majority of donors are fine with their money going to things like setting up for events, publicizing the mission, reaching out to volunteers and other donors, and even staffing or administrative costs.


What makes donors most and least happy when it comes to the nonprofit they support spending money (note: respondents had option to pick none of these)

Overall, donors want to hear from you, and they want to hear about the personal impact their donation is making. When in doubt, ask your donors how they want to be engaged, and then follow through with their preferences.

There’s so much more actionable data in the full Donor Loyalty Study. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our findings and specific topics we should dig deeper into with next year’s research.

Krista Endsley is the Chief Executive Officer for Abila, with more than 20 years of experience in leading teams in the software industry for both large and mid-sized companies. Formerly Sage Nonprofit Solutions, Krista served as the General Manager and Senior Vice President leading the transition from a business unit within an international conglomerate to an individual private company that is now Abila.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

AFP Boston: A New Sort of Buzz - Passionate, Challenging, Calming and Inspiring

Guest blogging this week on the AFP Blog is Daryl Upsall FInstF, AFP's vice chair of professional advancement.

I spend much of my working life speaking at fundraising conferences around the world.  Indeed as I write I am en route to the Finnish fundraising conference in Helsinki. My first AFP (then NSFRE) conference was in Boston just over 20 years ago, and I have been to very many since.

At the AFP International Fundraising Conference this year in Boston, there was a genuine, new buzz and excitement in the air, the likes of which I have not seen so clearly expressed by attendees and presenters before. I would like to think that it was because when planning the conference this time, we changed the structure, themes and format of many of the tracks and sessions.

Was it because we introduced new and challenging tracks, such as the well-attended and well-received “Rebels, Renegades and Pioneers?”  Or was it that we had sessions which fiercely debated many of the controversial key issues that affect our sector today, including several “sacred cows” of fundraising? I am sure both played a part.

Add to that the almost spiritual uplift that Kofi Annan gave us all with his thoughtful, far-reaching, yet also humble, warm and calming speech and discussion. Top that off with the powerful, demanding, challenging and truly inspirational speech that Kumi Naidoo blasted us with, and the conference got really fired up. Later that evening, Kumi was literally mobbed by especially young—and some not-so-young—fundraisers at our After Dark Party, showing just how much he had sparked a fire in some of us.

During the conference the app postings read nothing like a report from a “business as usual” fundraising convention, but more like the ecstatic cries of joy of a music festival, or shouts of collective solidarity of a liberation or social change movement, or ....dare I say the rallying cries of an election rally.

I genuinely believe that all of us—organizers, volunteers, presenters and attendees—created something special in Boston.

I had young attendees come up to me and say some of us “old rebels” gave them the courage to take the fight for justice forward through their role as fundraisers at a time in their career when they had uncertainties.  I had some of our more mature fundraising leaders feel that the AFP Conference was now giving fundraisers the forum to debate the big issues—be those social, political or more internal, such as how the sector is managed and governed.

We even had demands for the “Rebels” sessions logo to be available on coffee mugs, posters and other items to remind them that we are about inspiring and catalysing change.

With so much excitement in Boston, I am already looking forward to next year’s event in 2017 San Francisco, which should be an even greater success. See you all there!

http://afpfc.com/


Daryl Upsall FInstF     Twitter: @darylupsall

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The (Non)Impact of Political Campaigns on Charitable Fundraising

Some great new research came out last week from Blackbaud about how political giving impacts nonprofit support.

I was pleased to be able to write the forward for the report, which you can find here, but the findings bear repeating.

Using data from the 2012 presidential campaigns, the research found that political donors tracked by the Federal Election Commission gave more to charities in 2012 than they did in 2011.

Think about that. For the longest time, our profession has operated on the premise that election years are worse for our organizations because of the “competition” from political campaigns.

Now we have data that says we don’t need to raise funds in 2016 constantly worried about the Presidential and Congressional campaigns.

Will many of our donors be focused on the elections? Of course. But that doesn’t mean they will somehow forget our causes and not give, especially if we have a good cultivation plan in place.

If anything, the data shows that engagement breeds engagement, and that donors often give robustly to both charitable and political causes. Many donors understand that change comes through a variety of ways, and that it can be achieved both through charitable and political means.

Civic engagement is a quintessential American characteristic, and in a free, vibrant democracy, it’s exactly what we should want and encourage in our donors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hope in Dark Times

These are dark times. We felt battered by the news from Brussels yesterday morning. Everywhere  we look we see evidence of man's inhumanity to man, the apparent crumbling of the sense of responsibility to work for a common good, towards shared objectives.

I know that, personally, I have struggled to make sense of this over the last few years, especially at times like this. It seems as if the values that I believe in have become irrelevant.

Yet I left Boston after this year's conference with a sense of renewed optimism, of hope and with a belief in the future. Why?

It was not just one thing. There was the commitment, passion and experience we heard and felt in the sessions. There was the reaching out and sharing with one another.

And above all, there were the messages we heard from Kofi Anaan and Kumi Naidoo that were passionate, principled and direct. They believe in the future and they have no rose-tinted glasses distorting that vision. It's a long hard road that they see, but one that we have to travel - and travel together.

In an age of quick fixes, they speak of the long term. In an age of sound bites, they respect us by sharing a complex analysis of what will take us forward.

And over three days - during conversation, in the virtual world of the App and Twitter -  I heard their wisdom repeated again and again.

They engaged with our community and sparked our passion and commitment. The hope they gave us - spilled over into session rooms, corridors, bars and restaurants, giving us all renewed energy and purpose for what we do.

I have never heard such enthusiasm, shared across all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and beliefs. I saw our community coming together for the common good - and I know that as our passion floods out into the communities we serve, there is a bright future ahead for all of us.

Thank you for giving me that hope. And thank you for sharing it with me and countless others over the months and years ahead.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Research is Clear: Invest in Donor Retention and Cultivation

There’s more great research out now from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, delving deeper into statistics on donor retention.

The data in the new FEP supplement points to an inescapable fact: we have to focus on donor cultivation and major gifts. An ever-increasing proportion of fundraising revenue is coming from an increasingly smaller pool of donors. And as the FEP data shows, we’re not necessarily talking “major” donors, but individuals who give $250 or more.

It’s clear: we need to focus more on cultivating $50 and $100 donors and helping them to better understand the impact of giving. Especially since this new supplement shows something that I think we’ve known intuitively but may not have had the hard data to back it up: donors who give more tend to be more loyal. And the sweet spot for retention, when loyalty tends to shoot up, is at the $250 level, according to the research we have. The 2015 FEP report found overall donor retention at 46 percent, the supplement breaks down this data further. For repeat donors—those who had given at least two years in a row—the retention rate was 64.8 percent. But for those who were new donors—having given just once in the previous year—the retention rate was only 25.4 percent.

We have to invest in donor retention and cultivation—there’s simply no alternative. On average, charities are barely retaining one in four new donors every year. Now, that figure may speak to the number of charities donors are supporting every year, as they tend to move around from cause to cause. But it also clearly demonstrates we have to do a much better job of keeping their attention and engaging them more effectively.

That’s my take on all this data. Often, when we talk about donor cultivation, we tend to think of major gift programs. But just as important is engaging donors who give less as well. If we don’t have a constant pipeline of engaged donors, a community-base for giving, then any major gift program is doomed to fail. We have to look at we’re what we’re doing with ALL of our donors and determine the most effective way to get them to the level where they will be engaged, supporting our cause for years to come.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wounded Warriors: An Opportunity to Talk about Investment and Trust

You may have watched Tuesday’s CBS Evening News report or read Wednesday’s article in The New York Times on the Wounded Warrior Project. Both focused on the amount of money the organization spends on fundraising and administration, and quoted former employees who were highly critical of some of the Project’s operations and practices.

The Times’ article brings up some valid points, but it doesn’t do justice to the most important issue: Why is all of this investment needed in the first place – what’s essential to fundraising in complicated economic and political environments, and what’s not?

You’ll see that AFP has invited the Wounded Warriors Project CEO, Steven Nardizzi, to speak at its upcoming AFP International Fundraising Conference as part of our new session, “Rebels, Renegades and Pioneers.” He won’t be alone at this session; he’s one of many nonprofit and fundraising leaders with unconventional approaches whom we’ve invited for provocative discussion about what it takes generate real and sustained social impact in the world.

In many ways, we’ve shortchanged the public, and ourselves, by not talking openly about what it takes to make our organizations run well.  Let’s start by asking how we recruit and retain smart, engaged professionals?  How do we afford and implement efficient technology, best-practice marketing, and a vibrant culture?  How do we effectively steward donors and increase our fundraising revenues?

We know that impact requires investment.  But how much investment and how are those funds allocated?  What are the checks and balances in nonprofit management and governance to red-flag strategic investment that crosses the line into excessive spending?  Does a corporate business model really fit the kind of work that we do in the charitable giving sector?

I’m not suggesting that a review of the Project’s activities and expenditures is not warranted. The Wounded Warrior board needs to speak up and address these allegations, and they need to do it quickly. But to be fair, after hearing for years that nonprofits should be run like businesses, is it really so surprising that a nonprofit generating substantial revenue threw an event on a scale of a Google or an Apple?

It shouldn’t be surprising.  But it shouldn’t be happening either.

It shouldn’t be happening because charities are not businesses and their stakeholders are not consumers. The interests, culture and operations of a profit-making enterprise are enormously different and separate from those of a mission-driven nonprofit. There’s a unique element of partnership and trust that exists between any charity and the public that transcends the consumer experience.

Here in the nonprofit sector, we aren't trying to achieve short term fixes, but rather, to generate long-term social impact, social attitudes and commitment. We do that in a very public-facing way, hand in hand with people who trust us with their philanthropy. That pact with the giving public – that shared vision and investment – is the driver that distinguishes charitable organizations from the corporate sector.

All of us wince when an unfavorable light is cast on a nonprofit organization or a nonprofit leader.

When trust is compromised in our sector, rightly or wrongly, we all suffer for it.

However, now the organization has an opportunity—we all have an opportunity—to talk about what it takes for our sector to thrive. To talk about the investments we need to make not just to ameliorate conditions but to actually engage our internal and external stakeholders, and to change the world for the better.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Remembering Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer died this week. Some of you may know him, some of you may not. Tony was familiar to many from his participation in fundraising conferences around the world, including the AFP International Conference, the International Fundraising Congress in Holland and the AFP Toronto Congress.

Tony touched so many of us and testimonials testifying to his contributions to our field have been flooding in. I questioned whether I should add to them.

But I want to because Tony exemplified many of the best characteristics of our profession and the people who work in it.

I met Tony in the early 1990s. He was passionate, fiery, opinionated, principled—absolutely Type-A in his personality. It’s striking how many testimonials referenced disagreements with Tony—and how many of them referenced picking up the threads again afterwards.

So many qualities made him stand out: his generosity; his enthusiastic pursuit of the fresh and the inspirational; and his support for new ideas and concepts that helped us rethink fundraising. He was a consummate performer, never happier than when he was out there engaging with a critical audience.

But for all those who saw him as the showman on the stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people, there were those who saw a different face working in the field in Asia, Africa and Latin America. That was where his innate generosity, his thoughtfulness and his passion for the transformative power of our work truly shone—and it was there that his impact was truly felt.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to Tony – and I won’t. Because if he is not here to continue his work, the responsibility for that falls on our shoulders to take it forward for him. I know that all of us will accept that challenge.